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Sociological Review 


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Sociological Review 

VOL- IX. AUTUMN. 1016. 


In a paper 1 read before the Sociological Society in iyij. and ir. 
some lectures’ delivered at the London School of Economics in 
the same year. I put forward a view concerning the relation 
between Sociology and Psychology which it is the purpose of this 
paper to consider more fully. 

I must begin by slating briefly what I understand by 
psychology and sociology. I am sorry to have to spend lime on 
a topic on which, it might be thought, there is general agreement, 
but a private criticism of my earlier work by one whose opinion I 
value highly has convinced me that this course is necessary. My 
critic wrote that lie did not know in what sense I used the terms 
in question, and then proceeded to give definitions of his own 
which, if I had accepted them, would have reduced my whole 
position to an absurdity. 

1 use the term " psychology ” for the science which deals 
with mentnl phenomena, conscious ar.d unconscious I am fully 
aware that from the point of view of the psychologist I am bogging 
the whole question us it interests him by my use of the word 
" mental,’' but from the point of view of the student of society, 
the exact meaning of the word "mental ” is of no great importance. 
The important matter to him is that whatever may he the exact 
meaning of the word " mental " adopted by psychologists, there 
is no danger oi confusing menial processes with the social processes 
which I regard as the subject-matter of sociology. I may say tluit 
the definition of psychology I wish to exclude as wholly inadequate 
when the relation between sociology and psychology is being 
discussed is that of McDougall 1 that psychology is the science of 
the behaviour of living things. This definition is so wide that 
it would not only include the whole of sociology as ordinarily 
understood, but also economics, politics, and ethics. The definition 
is so wide ns to be useless if those subjects arc to be distinguished 
as separate disciplines. 

Passing now to the meaning I attach to the t 
the first point to notice is that just as it is possi 
of our daily actions ns individuals without 
i. " Survival in Sociology," Sctiologiiel Revtr 
i. " Kinship and Sodal Organization," London 
3 . " Psychology," Home University Library, Lo 



motives which prompt actions, so is it possible to describe 
the actions of human beings as members of society without 
reference to motives. In the case of individual actions, there is no 
need for their co-ordinated study in such a manner as to make up 
a science; it is only when human actions are carried out in 
conjunction with others, or involve the social welfare of others, 
that we are entitled to speak of them as social actions. These 
social actions as a whole form a body of organized processes which 
can be described and classified, and their relations in space and 
time studied. It is this description and classification and the 
study of these relations which I regard as the special subject-matter 
of sociology. 

And, I may remark, even with this limited scope, sociology 
still remains no small discipline. It would be possible, for 
instance, to write volumes on that group of social processes which 
we sum up under the term " marriage," without die use of a single 
psychological term referring to instincts, emotions, sentiments, 
ideas or beliefs, without mentioning such states as love, jealousy, 
and constancy, which everybody knows to stand in so close a 
relation to the social processes in question. It would probably be 
objected, that by such treatment the subject had been deprived o: 
all life.' While fully acknowledging that no treatment of marriage 
would be complete in which such topics as love and jealousy were 
ignored, such treatment is capable of producing valuable contri- 
butions to our knowledge. It would be a study in what might be 
called pure sociology. 

It will, I trust, have become evident that the distinction I seek 
to make between sociology and social psychology is essentially one 
of method. We are only now at the threshold of the scientific 
study of human society. We arc able to look back at a large 
amount of pioneer work by means of which facts have been 
garnered. It is now our task to establish methods and principles 
by means of which these facts may he used to build up one of 
those systematized and coherent bodies of knowledge which we 
call science. How little has been done towards the construction of 
such an edifice is shown by the widely divergent direclions of the 
attempts which have been made to this end and by the absence 
of generally accepted principles comparable with those upon which 
other sciences are based. This absence is so conspicuous that it 
has been possible, not merely to deny the existence of a science of 
sociology, but even to deny the possibility of such existence. 2 

To me, as to most students of the subject, the final aim of the 
study of society is the explanation of social behaviour in terms of 
psychology. The point upon which* I wish to insist is one of 
method. We have to discover bv what methods this aim may be 

s. C/. R R Marctt, Fclk-Lon, xxv jigij), as. 

a. Cl. H. G. Wells, Sotiologtcal Papers, London, 1937, vol. iil, 357. 



attained. The solution of the problem which I propose is that the 
end at which we are aiming will be reached by proceeding along 
two paths, which, talcing a parallel course at first, will gradually 
converge ns they approach the goal. Those who follow one path 
will devote themselves to the study of the body of customs and 
institutions which make up Social behaviour, while those who follow 
the other path will inquire into the instincts, sentiments, emotions, 
ideas, and beliefs of mankind, not only about strictly social events, 
but also about events such as birth and death which are of 
especial importance to society. 

The two kinds of process, social and menial, are so closely 
connected that there must be relations between the two throughout. 
The two paths will have inter-connections, even while they ars 
parallel to one another, and these interconnections will become still 
more numerous as the paths converge. 

A prominent cause of interconnection is the necessity, fo which 
nearly every science is subject, of making assumptions belonging 
to the domain of another science. Both sociology and social 
psychology arc subject to this necessity, and especially will 
sociology be driven to make assumptions which belong to the 
domain of psychology. In the oldet sciences such assumptions 
are often well-established truths and can be accepted with 
confidence. The special feature of the relation between sociology 
and social psychology is thru the assumptions borrowed by one 
science from the other can only be hypotheses, the validity of which 
is to be tested by finding how far they lead to the construction 
of consistent and coherent schemes. If these assumplions are thus 
justified, they become explanations. The point on which 1 
wish to insist is that wc must not mistake assumption for 
explanation. It is the danger of this mistake which makes so 
necessary the methodological separation of sociology and social 
psychology. It is just because it is at present so difficult to 
distinguish between cause and effect that each science should at 
present be followed so far as possible as if it were an independent 

My position can be stated very briefly and in words of the 
utmost simplicity. I suggest that it is the business of sociology to 
ascertain what happens and what has happened before it tries to 
explain why it happens and has happened. 

This proposition has two parts, referring to the present and 
the past. It might be thought that the first part would be accepted 
by all without question, and 1 believe it would be so accepted if 
the proposition were always put in the simple language in which 
I have stated it. And yeT there is a vast amount of so-called 
sociology' which consists* of arguments that social events follow a 
certain course beceuse our knowledge of the human mind shows 
that they must follow thi3 course. 



About the second pan of my thesis there is a more serious 
difference of opinion, and 1 acknowledge at once that those who 
object to the necessity of ascertaining what has happened before 
wc attempt to explain why it happened have some good grounds 
for their objection. 

It may be said, and with especial force where societies devoid 
of all written records are concerned, that the chief instrument for 
the study ot past history is a knowledge of psychology ; 
that only through the knowledge of man’s mental processes 
can we ever hope to reconstruct the past, so that the study of these 
mental processes should be our first care. I recognize the abstract 
validity of the pica; I have even -a certain amount of sympathy 
vith it, but it is the special object of this paper to show thnt this 
is not the path by which we may hope most speedily and most 
surely to reach our goal. In the lectures on " Kinship and Social 
Organization,” to which I have already referred, 1 have tried to 
show that certain social processes have been strictly determined, 
both in their general character and in their details, by social 
conditions, and that certain psychological processes which have 
been believed to be the determining factors nre wholly inadequate 
to explain how existing conditions have come into being. The 
processes with which I was then dealing belong to the domain of 
social organization in the strictest sense, and it remains possible 
that, even if my contention were true of these, it need not be true 
of social processes of other kinds. 

The lectures in question were followed by a discussion, in which 
Professor Westermarck was good enough to take the part of a 
vigorous opponent of my position. On one occasion, choosing an 
example of a social process which seemed to him incapable of any 
other tlian a psychological explanation, he asked : " How can you 
explain the blood-feud except by revenge?" I propose now to 
answer this question, or, at any rate, to show the inadequacy of the 
answer which the form of the question implies. In Professor 
Westemtorck's chapter on the blood-feud and allied social 
processes 1 it is assumed at the outset that these processes are 
determined by revenge. The assumption seems so self-evident to 
the writer that he often speaks of the blood-feud as '* blood 
revenge," and even uses this expression in die title of the chapter. 
After starting with this assumption. Professor Westermarck cite 3 
a number of cases in its support. Me assumes that an emotion 
which explains certain actions among ourselves, and seems also to 
explain such a process ns the vendetta of the Corsican, is also able 
to explain a number of cases from different parts of the world in 
which people take a certain line of adlion in response to a social 
injury. There is not a single example in the whole chapter of a 

i. " The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas,” London, ly/t, 
vol. i, p. 477. 


detailed analysis of a case in order to show that either the general 
character of the action or its details can be explained by revenge. 
Tiie assumption made at the beginning remains just as much an 
assumption at the end. The case is even less favourable than this, 
for it is evident that some oi the cases cited by Westermarck cannot 
be explained by revenge as we experience the emotion, but only 
become intelligible on the assumption of a mental attitude very 
different from that which we adopt in response to a social injury. 
Thus, cases are cited in which the relatives of a murdered person 
adopt the murderer as a means of " retaliation '* and treat him 
as one of their own children. 

Melanesia provides abundant examples of the difficulty in, 
explaining the response to social injury by means of revenge. A 
frequent cause of warfare throughout this region is adultery or 
rape. A community whose women have been thus injured makes 
war upon the offenders, and if this were all wc knew, we might 
seem to have a definite example of :hc dependence of warfare upon 
the emotion of revenge. An inquiry into the manner of waging 
war, however, puts a different complexion on the matter The 
people fight till one or more men have been lolled on either side ; 
in sonic islands it is necessary that an equal number shall hove 
been killed on each side. As soon as it is seen that each side has 
lost a man or men the fight comes to an end automatically: there 
is no parleying or arrangement of terms. Some time after, the two 
opponent peoples exchange presents which are of equal value on 
the two sides. There is no question of the offenders giving 3 
larger amount in compensation for the injury which was the 
primary cause of the quarrel. Moreover, in the island of 
Eddystone in die Solomons, the party which takes the initiative in 
the exchange is not that of the offenders, but the order of giving 
depends on the drawing of the first blood in the fight. The side 
which kilLs first gives its gift first. 

It is, of course, possible that we have here only a case in 
which the workings of revenge are obscured by later considerations 
arising out of rules of warfare which give it largely a ceremonial 
character. Even if this be so, however, it is evident that revenge 
must take a far less important place in the social life of such people 
than it is supposed to take among ourselves. Revenge is very 
inadequate as an explanation of this form of Melanesian warfare. 

The head-hunting of some pans of Melanesia bears a closer 
resemblance to the blood-feud in that two communities often take 
heads from one another over long periods of time. The heads are 
taken, however, for definite religious purposes, and there is no 
evidence to show that revenge plays any port in the, process. 
The choice of a district from which to obtain heads is determined 
rather by the desire to obtain necessary objects as easily and safely 
as possible. A process which might seem at first sight a good 



example of blood-rcvenge is found, on closer examination, to be 
determined mainly, if not altogether, by certain religious needs 
in which revenge plays no appreciable part. 

The method of which Professor Wcstcrmarck’s treatment of 
the blood-feud is a fair sample is open to two grave objections. It 
leaves us at the end just where we were at the beginning in our 
knowledge of the blood-feud as a social process. I do r.ot dwell on 
this objection because the book from which my example has been 
chosen does not profess to be a work on sociology, as I use the 
term, but or. morals. It is the aim indicated by the title of the 
book which justifies the far graver objection that as the result of 
Westermarck's treatment we know little, if any. more about 
revenge at the end of the argument than we knew at the beginning. 
Wc obtain from it no answer to such questions as the following : 
Is revenge a universal human character? Is it an emotion which 
has developed or been modified in the course of the history of 
mankind? Is it an emotion which has the same characters and 
the same content among all peoples, or does it vary with the 
physical and social environment? An answer to one or more of 
these questions is suggested by some of the cases cited by Professor 
AVestermarck, but he does not consider them from these points of 

1 have not made use of this example of the relation between the 
blooiMeud and revenge merely as the means of criticising the 
psychological method in general or its application by Professor 
VVestermarck. I have chosen it because it seems to afford as good 
an example as I could desire of the true relations which should 
exist between sociology and psychology. Just as I believe that it 
is only through a detailed study of such social processes as the 
blood-feud that we can expect to understand the real nature of 
revenge and its place in the menial constitution of different peoples 
at different levels of development of human society, so do I believe 
that it is only through the study of social processes in general 
that we can expect to understand the mental states which underlie 
these processes. One of the chief interests of sociology is that it 
affords an avenue by which we may approach and come to under- 
stand a most important department of psychology. In place of 
asking, How can you explain the blood-feud without icvenge? I 
would rather ask. How can you explain revenge without a know- 
ledge of the blood-feud? How can you explain the workings 
of the human mind without a knowledge of the social setting which 
must have played so great a part in determining the sentiments and 
opinions of mankind ? 

Thc^tudy which I have just undertaken supports the view that 
if he. wishes to understand the social activities of man, the 
sociologist must begin with the study of the organized conduct 
which I hold to be the special province of his science. 'In my